USDA Will No Longer Allow Salmonella in Breaded, Stuffed Chicken

    This is a major step for food safety, CR experts say

    Stuffed Breaded Chicken Cut in half on a plate Photo: Getty Images

    The Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it plans to consider salmonella in raw frozen, breaded, chicken products an adulterant. This means that producers of these products will not be able to legally sell them if they contain the bacteria and that companies must recall meat that could be contaminated, even if no illnesses are clearly linked to it.

    This is the first time a foodborne pathogen has been declared an adulterant in chicken. Currently, only toxin-producing E. coli strains, such as E. coli 0157:H7, are considered adulterants, and only in ground beef.

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    Consumers often aren’t aware that these frozen chicken products are raw and need to be cooked. The breading may appear brown, making the chicken look cooked. The USDA says that improved labeling hasn’t been effective at reducing illnesses. There have been 14 salmonella outbreaks related to these products (such as this one in 2021), sickening an estimated 200 people since 1998.

    Sandy Eskin, deputy undersecretary for food safety at the USDA, told CR the agency is “committed to reducing salmonella infections linked to poultry products and we believe that to do this, we must take more aggressive action.”

    The USDA says this step is part of a new comprehensive strategy to reduce salmonella illnesses attributable to poultry. The agency plans to issue its proposal in October.

    Consumer Reports’ food safety experts have long called for the USDA to declare salmonella an adulterant in chicken and say this move will enable the agency to protect the public from foodborne illness more effectively. “This is a landmark step,” says Brian Ronholm, CR’s director of food policy. “It demonstrates that the USDA is serious about addressing salmonella and holding the industry accountable. And it establishes a precedent that will allow the department to work on enforceable salmonella standards for all poultry products based on outbreak data.”

    This action still needs to be finalized. In the meantime, the key for consumers is to properly cook frozen, breaded, stuffed chicken breasts. Be sure to read the package labels—the products will be marked raw or uncooked—and follow all cooking instructions. All chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F. Confirm the temperature before you eat the chicken by inserting a food thermometer into the center and the thickest part.

    Lisa L. Gill

    As a dorky kid, I spent many a Saturday at the Bloomington, Ind., public library, scouring Consumer Reports back issues for great deals. Now, as a (much) bigger kid, that's still my job! Identifying products and services, especially in healthcare, that are safe, effective, and affordable—and highlighting those that aren't—is my top concern. Got a tip? Follow me on Twitter ( @Lisa_L_Gill)